How to Rate A Seafood’s Sustainability? Don’t Ask FreshDirect!

03/22/2012 10:32 AM |


There’s a petition going around urging a boycott of the home-delivered grocery service, in response to their plan to move their operation, which includes a lot of trucks and all the harmful exhaust they bring with them, to a part of the South Bronx which already rates highest in the country for asthma cases. But another cause for concern about FreshDirect? Honking noise and underpaid workers aside, the company boasts one of the lamest “Seafood Sustainability” ratings on the Internet.

It’s something of a riddle being instructed to “enjoy only once in a while” a fillet of farm-raised Atlantic Salmon on FreshDirect’s website, as indicated by a red Swedish fish-looking icon, when right next to it is a three-star rating for its “quality” from the vendor, as well as gushing copy extolling the fish’s culinary charms. This friendly-sounding rating is the lowest of the low for FreshDirect’s sustainability ratings, denoting that the fish “could use significant improvement” in its sustainability. This rating is also given to to Chilean Seabass, and twelve other seafood options available to purchase, although several of them (such as the overfished red snapper), do not yet feature a rating at all.

More exemplary models exist. For example, Blue Ocean Institute’s Seafood Guide, which FreshDirect claims to use as a source, has a red-colored fish icon for Atlantic farmed salmon, only it’s stabbed with a red flag and given a long paragraph explaining why. The Seafood Watch program from the Monterey Bay Aquarium is another well-trusted guide that simply says “Avoid” farmed Atlantic salmon and other irresponsibly fished species. It’s understandable that retailers such as FreshDirect would sugar-coat these warning flags if they’re selling the fish at all. However, Whole Foods Market’s in-store seafood ratings system is derived solely from third-party sources including Seafood Watch, Blue Ocean Institute, and the Marine Stewardship Council. And the best way for retailers to “avoid” the red zone? Don’t sell the unsustainable fish at all.

To be sure, rating a seafood’s sustainability is a complex equation that changes constantly. And it is commendable that FreshDirect make the effort to publicize the ecological soundness of one’s offerings in the first place. (One can now only expect the worst if a large company doesn’t brag about its seafood’s sustainability.) But if you’re going to go through the trouble of consulting with experts to ascertain sustainability, only to render the information practically meaningless and, most importantly, continue selling the lowest-ranking fish in it, it’s just disingenuous. And that’s something to honk at as well.

2 Comment

  • Cathy,

    Thanks for sharing information with your readers about seafood sustainability.

    Blue Ocean Institute does indeed work with Fresh Direct by providing them with our full listing of seafood ratings, which they base their sustainability rating colors on.

    If you want to see Blue Ocean’s ratings, go to
    And you can also read about the quantitative and authoritative methodology we use to determine our seafood ratings at:…

    Kate McLaughlin
    Seafood Program Director
    Blue Ocean Institute

  • Thanks, Kate! I’m sorry the link to Blue Ocean’s guide went missing in this piece. Thanks for providing it!!